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Science behind climate attribution drives litigation risk for business and government

The new science of attributing extreme weather events, such as last year’s devastating Hurricane Harvey, to climate change could become a key driver of litigation.

That’s the conclusion of new analysis published in the Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law, which outlines how advances in climate attribution science will have serious implications for law and litigation.

Authors Sophie Marjanac and Lindene Patton write that having an increased ability to foresee extreme events means a greater potential liability for governments and business that fail to act on preventable climate-related harm.

The first cases are likely to be brought where there is a specific action decision-makers could take to reduce harm to people and infrastructure.

“Advancements in attribution science are poised to alter significantly the legal landscape for climate-related suits. The question is not whether there will be another wave of climate-related litigation, but when it will occur and whether it will be more successful than prior efforts,” the authors write.

“The next set of litigation issues will likely turn on whether improvements in attribution science can show what scientists knew or know about climate change, and thus what effects or events can be totally or partially attributed to climate change and what was reasonably foreseeable.”

This will be the result of two major trends: the steady increase in loss and damages cases resulting from extreme weather events, and advancements in the science linking these events to anthropogenic climate change.

The authors outline how this increased litigation risk will have implications for professional liability for those with a duty of care as well as the emerging debate around people’s constitutional rights to a safe climate.

Read the full article published in the Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law, entitled: Extreme weather event attribution science and climate change litigation: an essential step in the causal chain?

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Balazs Busznyak

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